Forgetting how to learn

Tomorrow is grading day at my kickboxing dojo. I’m putting myself forward for orange belt. And so today is practice day. We go through the motions, each step and each combination practiced again and again and again until it’s deeply memorised, in the body. With enough practice the moves just flow out, gracefully, without the interruption of conscious thought. How much practice is enough? Days and weeks for sure. Years, to really master something.

And this is, in the end, how we learn any way of acting, whether boxing, dancing, relating, speaking or listening. Practice upon practice upon practice. Paying close attention to ourselves as we go. Each day discovering the further subtleties and discernment required. Each time finding out in our rigidity, or by falling over, what we haven’t yet embodied. Failing, and picking ourselves up again. And not knowing quite how, or when, it’s all going to come together.

There are no short cuts.

Except in our wider culture, particularly in the world of organisations, we’ve forgotten all of this. Or become wilfully blind to it.

We confuse becoming skilful with learning facts (a relatively simple act compared to learning how to do something well). We demand learning that does not disrupt our schedule (mostly what we’re not willing to disrupt is our busyness). We think we can leave out our bodies and just use our minds (hence endless courses with PowerPoint slides and rows of tables). We get frustrated when we find it takes longer than we think, and we blame the teacher (not good enough) or the subject (a waste of time) or ourselves, but keep on doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to work. We use our certainty that we know how to learn as a defence against our confusion, and against the discomfort of having to take it slow.

But none of that works, because although it’s a good way to cram facts, it’s not how human beings learn how to do anything.

And deep down, despite all our protestations, we know that too.

Photo Credit: Marius B via Compfight cc

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